DNA: A Double-Helix Structure
DNA has a double-helix structure (Figure 1 where the sugar and phosphate lie on the outside of the helix, forming the sugar-phosphate backbone of the DNA. The nitrogenous bases are stacked in the interior in pairs, like the steps of a staircase; the pairs are bound to each other by hydrogen bonds. The two strands of the helix run in opposite directions, meaning that the 5′ carbon end of one strand will face the 3′ carbon end of its matching strand. (This is referred to as antiparallel orientation and is important to DNA replication and in many nucleic acid interactions.)
Only certain types of base pairing are allowed. For example, a certain purine can only pair with a certain pyrimidine. This means A can pair with T, and G can pair with C, as shown in (Figure 2). This is known as the base complementary rule. In other words, the DNA strands are complementary to each other. If the sequence of one strand is AATTGGCC, the complementary strand would have the sequence TTAACCGG.
During DNA replication, each strand is copied, resulting in a daughter DNA double helix containing one parental DNA strand and a newly synthesized strand. At this time it is possible a mutation may occur. A mutation is a change in the sequence of the nitrogen bases. For example, in the sequence AATTGGCC, a mutation may cause the second T to change to a G. Most of the time when this happens the DNA is able to fix itself and return the original base to the sequence. However, sometimes the repair is unsuccessful, resulting in different proteins being created.